May 18, 2023
Senior Vice President of Military and Government Programs, National University
Chief Growth Officer, Armed Forces Insurance
Executive Vice President of Member Relations & Global Fixed Assets, PenFed Federal Credit Union
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Senior Vice President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Former Chief of Staff and VP, Operations & Communications, Hiring Our Heroes
Military spouses have widely faced professional challenges, driven by a lack of employment opportunities and connections between service members, veterans, and civilian employers, as well as a deficiency of resources and support that has made it difficult to pursue careers or entrepreneurial endeavors.
Now, through grassroots efforts and partnerships with both the private and nonprofit sectors, military spouses are finding more employment opportunities — impacting our nation from the local, community level to the national security level. An untapped market of knowledgeable and motivated workers, military spouses can provide an impactful solution to the nation’s worker shortage, as industry and nonprofit leaders observed during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 7th annual Military Spouse Employment Summit.
Military Spouses Have the ‘Get-It-Done’ Mentality That Makes Great Employees
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes (HOH) initiative has long been working to provide service members, military spouses, and veterans with opportunities for employment and resources for growth. With the nation still impacted by worker shortages, HOH is looking at military spouses to fill those vacancies, employing highly-qualified individuals often overlooked by civilian employers.
“We've got 9 million jobs unfilled, and through the work and the network and the relationships that HOH has built, not only here but globally in bases overseas, we know there are 1 million military spouses who are an incredible untapped pool of talent,” Carolyn Cawley, President at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, said. “[They are] highly educated. [Approximately] 51% have a bachelor's degree or more, which outpaces probably 20% of non-military counterparts. They have J.D.s, MBAs, community college degrees, [and] vocational skills.”
As a veteran who served on active duty for 30 years, Jamie Gayton, the Executive Vice President of Member Relations & Global Fixed Assets at PenFed Federal Credit Union, understands the power and value hiring military spouses can have on business.
“The technical competency [they] bring to the table is extraordinary,” Gayton said. “In addition to that,... the passion, the engagement, the sort of grit, and the ‘get-it-done’ mentality that comes with anybody that's associated with the military — it's powerful.”
Workplaces Can Change to Suit the Needs of Military Spouses
As a veteran and an employee, Gayton knows what employers must provide when hiring military spouses: a positive culture that values and nurtures those relationships, despite challenges that may arise.
“Creating that culture that says, ‘We take care of the military [and] we understand the value you bring,’ that comes with some [challenges],” Gayton said. “We know that there are deployments… [and] PCS moves, and you have to understand that [and] fully support it if you're going to bring folks in that are going to stay with you for the long term.”
Lori Simmons, the Chief Growth Officer at Armed Forces Insurance, noted when military spouses find a company that works with them, they pay it forward — opening up a “super-channel for connecting spouses with spouses, spouses with employers, and providing resources for military spouse-owned businesses.”
“When [military spouses] get selected for a role in a company… and there are openings that they're aware of, they look behind them and… bring [others in the community] forward,” Simmons said. “They support them, refer them, and again, pay it forward, bringing them up from behind.”
Speaking to military spouses looking for employment, Meg O’Grady, the Senior Vice President of Military and Government Programs at National University, shared some advice.
“Don't be afraid to ask… ‘What could my career path look like here?’” O’Grady said. “You don't have to resign… All they can say is no, so … advocate for yourself.”
As for employers, she recommends “really [thinking] through what those career paths could be for those military spouses as they move around.”
Programs Are Available to Support Military Spouses in Their Careers
O’Grady highlighted various educational programs and resources available to empower military spouses in their professional journeys, including at National University, which focuses on three pillars: whole-human education, next-gen education, and value-rich experiences.
“We are working with the Department of Labor on things like apprenticeships… [and] with more than 200 employer partners to connect our students with the education that they need,” O’Grady said. “I'm talking about innovation in the classroom,... in the methodology,... in the connections [schools are] making for their students, and… across the board in adaptability and flexibility for those students.”